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Ningbo woman keeps memory of martyrs alive

By LI LEI | China Daily | Updated: 2024-05-18 08:11
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In a world where the contributions of lesser-known heroes often fade into obscurity, Sun Jiayi stands as a beacon of their remembrance.

Over the past two decades, Sun, a descendant of a military family in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, has devoted herself to honoring the sacrifices of forgotten heroes. The 39-year-old is the founder of the voluntary service project "Seeking Relatives for Martyrs" and deputy secretary-general of the Volunteer Association of Haishu district in Ningbo.

This month, she was honored with the China Youth May 4 Medal, a prestigious recognition in China bestowed upon exceptional young people who have made significant contributions in fields such as science, technology, culture, education and social development. The medal is named after the May 4 Movement, a significant cultural and political event that occurred in China in 1919.

Her commitment to reuniting fallen soldiers with their families has deeply touched many and has brought comfort to the families of these soldiers.

In 2012, she embarked on a journey with her husband to Yunnan province, which borders Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, visiting martyrs' cemeteries along the way. This trip marked the beginning of her decadelong quest to pay homage to many more who sacrificed their lives for their country.

"I knew what I was seeking and why I had to do it," she remarked.

The journey in 2012 was inspired by a pivotal event six years prior.

In 2006, she visited rural areas in her home province to honor veterans of the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45) and collected their handprints as a symbol of respect.

This initial encounter with the veterans planted a seed of passion in her to seek answers for the nameless heroes who selflessly served their nation.

In 2008, Sun met more veterans, including Wang Renyou, who fought against Japanese invaders. Wang's poignant words, "My youth knew no peace, no flowers, only gunfire and war," deeply resonated with Sun, propelling her to uncover the stories of these unsung heroes and provide closure to their families.

Motivated by a desire to reunite fallen heroes with their families, Sun began documenting martyrs' cemeteries nationwide and sharing her findings on the microblogging site Sina Weibo.

In 2017, she initiated the "Seeking Relatives for Martyrs" project. Spending weekends visiting veteran soldiers and martyrs' families, she listened to their wartime stories and the journeys of martyrs' families seeking their lost ones. Sun also amassed a vast collection of books on war history, hoping to gain further insights from these sources.

Through her efforts, Sun identified a pattern: by matching unit numbers and sacrifice dates provided by the martyrs' families with historical records, she and her colleagues could deduce the likely burial sites of the martyrs. Cross-referencing this information with local martyrs' cemeteries significantly enhanced the efficiency of their search.

"During wartime, many martyrs didn't leave their names behind, and some names were inaccurately recorded," Sun explained.

The biggest challenge lies in the scattered burial sites across the country and abroad, leading volunteers to traverse mountains and rivers to gather information.

As more people became aware of the project, more volunteers joined the search, which led to the creation of a comprehensive database of martyr information.

Sun always carries a portable hard drive containing data on over 40,000 martyrs, including their names, birth dates, home addresses, unit numbers, sacrifice dates and precise burial locations.

"If the families provide relatively complete information, we can help them locate their loved ones' burial sites in as little as two minutes," she said.

She has made this data accessible to her fellow volunteers and authorities. Her efforts attracted widespread attention, prompting families of fallen soldiers to seek her assistance.

Sun has established a network of 412 volunteers spanning different age groups. More than 30,000 messages seeking martyr's families have been circulated, resulting in 1,460 reunions.

"I embarked on this journey not out of bravery but out of empathy," she said.

"I couldn't bear to see heroes' souls wandering aimlessly or their families left in search of closure. It's a duty I carry with pride."

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